Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Most Strategic Resource

If there is a single irreplaceable fuel running the Unites States' war machine, that fuel is coffee. Ewan McGregor's character in Blackhawk Down gripes about it in this clip, but he probably doesn't realize how vital his role is.

Entropic Memes has some fascinating excerpts and commentary on a 1951 DoD report about procurement and consumption of "The Essential Beverage" in the military. Most interesting to me is the military's acknowledgment of coffee's status as the only major military supply which cannot be substituted for, and which the United States is not capable of producing.

I can say from personal experience that an interruption in coffee supplies would be absolutely devastating to productivity and morale both in theater and in garrison. The only real change in this situaion since 1951 is the recent boom in the popularity of caffeinated energy drinks. Coffee is still king on the FOB, but outside the wire our soldiers are being fuelled by Rip-It, an energy drink company that has resurrected a time-honored marketing plan: donate boatloads of your product to the "war effort" in order to gain total saturation of a captive market. Those customers then return home to spread the word; it's viral marketing in the "Spanish influenza" sense of viral.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Hurray for Babies!

Time lapse of a nine-month-old playing. It pretty much speaks for itself: babies are awesome. (HT Boing Boing).

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

I don't know if seeing the title of an upcoming book has ever made me this happy: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith, to be released this April. Here's the publisher's blurb:
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies features the original text of Jane Austen's beloved novel with all-new scenes of bone-crunching zombie action. As our story opens, a mysterious plague has fallen upon the quiet English village of Meryton—and the dead are returning to life! Feisty heroine Elizabeth Bennet is determined to wipe out the zombie menace, but she's soon distracted by the arrival of the haughty and arrogant Mr. Darcy. What ensues is a delightful comedy of manners with plenty of civilized sparring between the two young lovers—and even more violent sparring on the blood-soaked battlefield as Elizabeth wages war against hordes of flesh-eating undead. Complete with 20 illustrations in the style of C. E. Brock (the original illustrator of Pride and Prejudice), this insanely funny expanded edition will introduce Jane Austen's classic novel to new legions of fans.
You have no idea how happy this makes me.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Terrible Thing To Waste

The indomitable Thomas Sowell is wondering why it is that the Obama administration and the Democrats in Congress have been in such a goshdarn hurry to pass an emergency stimulus package, the overwhelming majority of which won't be paid out for years. What exactly are they buying?
They are buying what politicians are most interested in—power. In the name of protecting the taxpayers’ investment, they are buying the power to tell General Motors how to make cars, banks how to bank, and, before it is all over with, all sorts of other people how to do the work they specialize in, and for which members of Congress have no competence, much less expertise.
Like doctors, for example, who could face tax penalties if they insist on offering their patients procedures that haven't yet met the approval of yet another federal medical gatekeeper. Because clearly the problem with American medicine is that the federal government doesn't hold enough sway in your physician's office. For all the talk of helping out Main Street and saving us all from the next Great Depression, let's not forget what Rahm Emmanuel so helpfully reminded us, "a crisis is a terrible thing to waste".

The Future Is Now

I always thought that the whole "high-tech energy-beam weapon requires enormous diamond of mystical properties" trope was just a ridiculous plot device of terrible movies. Apparently not. I know "directed energy weapons" (in other words, rayguns) have been just over the horizon of practicality since the 50's, but it seems like we're actually getting them now. The Active Denial System (the "Pain-Ray") is ready for deployment. Honest-to-goodness laser guns are being demonstrated to shoot down enemy drones and have been suggested as a convenient way to detonate roadside bombs from a safe distance. Soldiers don't think twice about deploying alongside robots.

We're totally living in the future, and it's pretty awesome.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Best Thing Ever (Yet): Best Headline Ever

Scientists Not So Sure 'Doomsday Machine' Won't Destroy World

Obama on Al-Arabiya

The Muslim world's not quite sure yet what to make of President Obama. That's okay, because most of us aren't, either.
''I can't be optimistic until I see something tangible,'' said Hatem al-Kurdi, 35, a Gaza City engineer who saw parts of the interview. ''Anyone can say nice words, but you have to follow with actions.''

''He seems very interested in the Middle East issue but he didn't say exactly what he's going to do about it,'' Kurdi added.
I'm curious myself.

Journalistic Fear-Mongering is Lost on Me

All I got out of this article was a serious craving for doner kebab.
Among the kebabs sampled - without salad or sauces - the average doner contained 98% of an adult's recommended daily salt and 148% of their daily saturated fat allowance... The worst doners inspectors came across contained 1,990 calories before salad and sauces - over 95% of a woman's recommended daily calories, 346% of a woman's saturated fat intake and 277% of an adult's daily salt intake.
Mmmmmmm... kebab.

Cheering For Goliath

Entropic Memes has some interesting commentary on the recent defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, better known simply as the Tamil Tigers:
It’s kind of a shame, really, because I always liked the Tamil Tigers (and, to be honest, have always kind of secretly supported most ethnically-motivated secessions.) Yes, yes, I know they’re considered “terrorists”, and I know that supporting them is frowned upon by the government. And, yes, a lot of their actions (recruiting child soldiers, for a start) were, frankly, reprehensible. Ignore the politics and rhetoric for a moment; the Tigers had style.

I think that at some point in the future, when the whole post-9/11 obsession with “terrorism” fades, people are going to look back at the Tamil Tigers and realize that they were the last great “freedom fighters” on the planet. I mean, come on - a thirty-something year-old insurgency with a quite effective navy and air force? How can you not like that?
On one level, I can understand the admiration. There's that natural affinity for the underdog, especially when the messy details of the conflict are obscured by distance and media indifference. But while I understand the motivations, I can't share the admiration, and it goes far beyond the child recruitment problem — though honestly, that ought to be enough. For one, chalking up the Tigers' designation as terrorists to a "post-9/11 obsession with 'terrorism'" is a bit ironic when they are the group generally credited as having invented the suicide vest and the VBIED and perfected their use over the last 30 years. Tactics aside even, the Tigers have dragged their country through three decades of conflict for the sake of an independent Tamil "homeland", the prospective residents of which have never been shown to support this pipe dream. Not that the Tigers ever cared much what other Tamils wanted; indeed, the worst atrocities of this conflict have been perpetrated by the Tigers against war-weary Tamils denounced as "collaborators". This is one "classic David-vs-Goliath matchup" where I'm happy to see the giant win.

Monday, January 26, 2009

An Interesting Question

What's the right time to panic? Jay Nordlinger brings up this dilemma in today's Impromtus column:
What is the right time to panic? A tricky question. Panic too soon, and you’re just foolish. Panic too late, and—well, it’s too late.
He's right, after all. And when the specific topic of conversation is genocidal pogroms against Jews, which have been a more-or-less centennial event in Europe since, you know, close to forever, it's well worth concerning oneself. If you're a Jew, anyway. If you're a descendant of all those Europeans who have always managed to look the other way, well, I guess you can just keep on keepin' on.

Your Government Cares... How Much You're Costing Them

Whilst commenting on what Nancy Pelosi thinks of you, Fearsome Comrade uses an excellent example to ask why many people trust the government to solve the nation's problems:
Remember: To the government, you are a number in a computer. You think your insurance company doesn't care about you? How about if your insurance company had guns and the means to enforce its will on the population? How much would they care then?
For serious! People gripe about how corporations like banks, HMOs, and particularly insurance companies are so uncaring, impersonal, and exploitative. And it can certainly be true, but at the end of the day that company is still making money off you. You may be nothing more to them than the pasture on which they grow fat, but at least you're that. You're still on the black side of the ledger. To the government, you are a liability, an expense. You're still just a number, but to them that number's in red.

Sunday, January 25, 2009


Apparently my visceral dislike for medical facilities isn't entirely unwarranted (HT: The Renaissance Biologist):
Some medical personnel wear the same unlaundered uniforms to work day after day... 65% of medical personnel confess they change their lab coat less than once a week, though they know it's contaminated. Fifteen percent admit they change it less than once a month. Superbugs such as staph can live on these polyester coats for up to 56 days.

Family Tradition

Huh. Of all the things that run in families, I wouldn't have suspected a predilection to presidential assassination, but apparently so. The father of John Wilkes Booth has been shown to be the author of a letter threatening the assassination of Andrew Jackson. Wierd. Eerie.

Also, how does English not have a specific word ending in -cide for the assassination of presidents? C'mon, English. You're better than that.

Doing "Business"

The Fearlesssome Comrade, a blog I just recently discovered, has some words for those industries — specifically journalism and higher education — that hate having to admit to themselves that they are, in fact, industries:
If you rely on people willingly paying you, you're a business. If you rely on people unwillingly paying you, you're either a crime syndicate or the government.
These days, it's getting hard to tell the difference.

UPDATE: It's the Fearsome Comrade, not "fearless" as I originally had it. Apologies. Though I have no doubt he is also fearless.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Hollywood's Pledge

With reference to "the Pledge", Andrew Breitbart has more than a few choice words on the Hollywood Left's newfound love of country. For those of you short on time, his last sentence pretty well sums it all up: "Good luck, President Obama. The rest of you can go to hell."

A Long Time Falling

A few days ago, some of my buddies and I were wondering who holds the record for most jumps by a US paratrooper, and generally, what that record might be. I'm not sure whether he holds the record or not, but CSM Jeffrey Mellinger's over 3,700 jumps has got to be close. 33 cumulative hours spent in freefall. Incidentally, CSM Mellinger is, as far as anyone knows, the last draftee still on active duty in the US military.

Sign Hacking

So I know it would be reckless and illegal to modify one of those flashing LED road signs if it were displaying an important traffic message. Luckily for me, I see blank ones flashing all the time, because I really want to make use of this particular hack:

Friday, January 23, 2009

Bad Bad Bad: 40 Al-Qaeda Members Die of Plague

The UK Telegraph is reporting that 40 members of an al-Qaeda-affiliated terror cell in Algeria have died of the plague. It is not improbable that the living conditions in a terrorist training camp in the Algerian wilds may have led to the disease (plague being endemic in North Africa), but striking 40 at once does seem a bit suspicious. A thought on the supposition that they may have been working with plague as a potential bioweapon: sending infected members to mingle with a target population as "suicide vectors" would be a pretty ineffective dispersal technique, particularly for plague, but it would be chillingly effective as a terror weapon. Remember: actually killing you is just icing on the cake; a terrorist's goal, by definition, is to frighten you into changing your behavior.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Meeting the Press

Well, I guess we knew President Obama would have a very different relationship with the White House press corps than his predecessor did. I wouldn't have suspected he'd start right off the bat scolding journalists for asking substantive questions:
"Ahh, see," he said, "I came down here to visit. See this is what happens. I can't end up visiting with you guys and shaking hands if I'm going to get grilled every time I come down here."

The Pledge

Wow. This would be hilarious if it weren't so terrifying.

Are we so deaf to the echoes of history as to let the line "I pledge allegiance to the folk" get past the editors? Seriously?

"I pledge to be a servant to our president, and all mankind." I'm bound by oath to obey the President's orders, and proudly so, all politics aside. But you won't find me pledging to be his servant.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

On Freedom

Yesterday's inauguration should be a reminder to us all that most of the world does not enjoy the freedom that we do. In particular we should remember those who live in the appallingly topsy-turvy world that is Arabia today. A few weeks ago, a journalist threw his shoes at the President of the United States. For that act he deserves to be slapped on the wrist to the fullest extent of the law. Sadly the nation in which is imprisoned (and the nations to which he could be transferred) has a strange sense of justice:
He is in danger over there," [his lawyer] said in a telephone interview Monday. "He's also in danger in other Muslim countries because people who support his action could try to make him a martyr.
Read that again. And again. It took me until the third read to realize what the shoe-thrower's lawyer was saying: He's in danger, because people who whole-heartedly agree with him might well kill him in order to strengthen the cause of opposition to the American mission in Iraq. And people wonder why I can't bring myself to look at the Middle East with enthusiasm.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

On Joy

Joy is an interesting topic. I've found it on YouTube. A few times. It's one of the Fruits of the Spirit, to begin with. And it is encouraging to me, in the etymological sense, to know that President Bush understands joy:
I tell people that, you know, some days happy, some days not so happy, every day has been joyous.

Just A Word

So many comments. So much to be said. Most of it has already been said or will shortly be said by others, so I'm not going to bother. I have but one comment on the inaugural address itself, this portion in particular:
We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished.
So, what you're saying, Mr. President, is that the fundamentals of our economy are strong. And I wholeheartedly agree.

I apologize, friends, if this is taken as flip. The excoriation of Senator McCain for that statement is the single bitterest jab of the campaign, and the only one that still sticks with me.

The Obligatory Inauguration Day Post

May God grant our new President the talent of Wisdom in his governance. And I hope for integrity and justice and temperance and humility and intelligence.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

More YouTube Joy

Western culture takes a lot of flak for bubblegum pop music, mostly from ourselves. And yet, when a group of talented independent musicians gets together with the goal of elevating bubblegum to an art form, somehow it works. And they're called The Go! Team.

Just Don't Go Down There, Seriously

Just in case I haven't been absolutely clear on this subject: squid are terrifying.

Modernizing Monopoly

I'm a big fan of Monopoly. It was one of our favorite board games when we were kids, and our introduction to the principles of legalism and bureaucracy as we were forced to negotiate the ever-shifting "house rules" in our friends' homes. Sadly, however, the classic game has begun to lack in verisimilitude, so why not update it with some new Chance and Community Chest cards, as suggested by Radio Free New Jersey:
  • Your Property is seized through Eminent Domain. Give your most expensive property to the player to your right.
  • Homeowner Lending Bailout: You must buy the cheapest property the bank holds and give it to the player with the least cash.

  • Government Job! Collect $100 from the next player to pass GO.

  • Spotted Owl Found! You are charged for environmental impact studies. All new houses will cost you double the original price.

An Unlikely Event

So I used to think all the talk of "in the unlikely event of a water landing your seat cushion can be used as a flotation device" was just hooey to placate the irrationally paranoid. Actually, I thought the whole "water landing" idea was in the same category. Apparently not:
NEW YORK (AP) - A US Airways plane crashed into the frigid Hudson River on Thursday afternoon after striking a bird that disabled two engines, sending 150 on board scrambling onto rescue boats, authorities say. No deaths or serious injuries were immediately reported.
God be praised for that. And those pilots had better get a promotion.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

I Want One: Atlas of True Names

A husband and wife team of German cartographers has just released the English version of their Atlas of True Names — a pair of maps that translates the etymological roots of placenames into plain English, transforming the familiar landscape of the upper Midwest into a Tolkeinesque realm where one could travel from Mudwater (Winnipeg) to the Land of the South Wind People (Iowa) by way of Father-of-Waters (the Mississippi). The British Isles fare even better, where one can travel from Hillfort (London) to the Land of the Wanderers (Scotland) where one finds the Isles of Sea Monsters (the Orkneys) and Beyond the North (the Outer Hebrides).

This is just so me, you know? Which is why I'm buying it.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

I Don't Really Know What You're Planning Here

I'm not surprised that 3M makes "nuclear grade" duct tape, "especially ideal for applications in the shipbuilding, nuclear power plant and stainless steel industries". I'm a bit intrigued that Amazon suggests a Rubik's Cube as the item frequently purchased with nuclear grade duct tape.

Honeymoon Over Before the Wedding

Dang, folks, that didn't take long.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Industrious in Gaza

I haven't written much about Israel's invasion of Gaza. It's not that I don't have a lot to say about the situation, but I'm just so weary of it. John Hinderaker makes a point, however, that I feel I have to share. We've heard a lot about how HAMAS uses "human shields" by storing weapons caches in or firing rockets from schools, markets, and hospitals,
but the truth is really worse than that. Hamas doesn't endanger civilians in hopes that it will deter retaliation; it does so in the hope and expectation that civilians will be killed and wounded. This tactic is part of a larger strategy to create tragedy and disaster, which the Palestinians have developed into something akin to an industrial process.
He goes on to comment on the role professional "atrocity" photographers play in encouraging a continuing market for civilian casualties, and the disturbing context of some of these photos, particularly the innumerable photos and videos taken within hospital emergency rooms:
One can only imagine what an American nurse would do to a photographer who tried to pull a stunt like this. Apart from interfering with the treatment itself, photographing injured people in this manner would be viewed as a gross invasion of their privacy. But in Gaza, even the exigencies of medical care yield to the overriding need to serve Gaza's one successful industry: the production of death and disaster, and the reproduction of images of that death and disaster for world-wide consumption.

Babies Love Robots. It's a Proven Fact.

The Steampunk inventor CrabFu (real name I-Wei Huang) shares this adorable video of his award-winning SwashBot meeting his son, who is nicknamed, of course, ShrimpFu.

Somali Pirates?

We've been hearing all about the Somali pirates. I've written a bit about them myself. But something struck when I looked at the Somali coast on this map of attacks:

All the news stories speak of these attacks occurring off "the Somali coast". Thing is, most of them are happening practically in sight of Yemen. I don't really know what to make of that. I suppose the ships are probably just crossing to the other side of the street, as it were, and the pirates are just going where the ships are, but at least some of the pirates are Yemeni, and many more seem to be funded or supplied from Yemen. It still seems a touch strange that this situation isn't being made clear. Is it just easier to blame the chaos of Somalia, or is there a particular reason Yemen isn't in the spotlight on this?

Friday, January 9, 2009

Epiphany Around the World

The Boston Globe's "Big Picture" photoblog shares a beautiful roundup of the Christmas season around the world. It's fascinating for two reasons: 1) to see a major media outlet recognize that the Christmas season ends in January, not on Boxing Day, and 2) it features a great many pictures of Christmas and Epiphany celebrations from parts of the world it is easy to think of as being somehow "outside" Christendom, like China, Iraq, Gaza, and Turkey.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Objectivism in the Fast Lane

I really enjoy the writing of Ayn Rand, and I've been putting off diving into her masterpiece, so I'm happy to say that after a 24-hour shift on watch duty I'm about 1/3 of the way through Atlas Shrugged and hopelessly hooked. (I wasn't reading the whole shift, else I might well have finished it). At some point I'll get around to writing a critique of the Randian worldview, which is so alluringly right about so many particulars of the human condition while being so appallingly wrong about the whole. Today's not that day. Today is the day that I comment on how T-Rex shares my driving habits, but for reasons of which Ayn Rand might herself approve!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Morning Inspirations

Get your day started right, with the most inspirational 2 minutes of video ever edited together:

(HT Randy Barnett at the VC)

Monday, January 5, 2009

Gaza's Tunnels

The maze of tunnels under Gaza's border with Egypt have often been described as the Strip's "lifeline" under the Israeli blockade. Well, it's nice to know that the good people of Hamasistan have their priorities in order. I'd hate to hear that they had to cut back on shipments of Viagra, iPods, and 122mm Chinese rockets to make room for, you know, food and medicine.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

I'm a Waffler

I've had a sudden reversal of opinion. These things happen. I have been immediately and completely convinced of Caroline Kennedy's qualifications by three little words: Senator Bill Clinton.


Today Dinosaur Comics reminds us that precision in language is a virtue, with reference to a particular linguistic peeve of my own: the use of "decimate" to mean "utterly destroy". As the comic points out, and any pedant worth his salt ought to know, "decimate" means "destroy one tenth". I understand that "decimate" is a pretty cool word, but what I don't get is why people don't use "annihilate". It means precisely what most people intend to mean by "decimate", and sounds even cooler!